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The skunks who smell success

Scary, or a truly hot band? Nicolas Barber meets Skunk Anansie, newcomers with a wild, wild act and a very big future
SEEING Skunk Anansie for the first time, it is clear that this is how rock shows should be. Quite apart from their shudderingly taut punk-funk-metal and the ear-shredding voice of their lead singer, Skin, Skunk Anansie stand out as the most madly energetic performers for a long time. They put the Iggy back in pop. There's bass player Cass, dreadlocks flailing, and Ace, the guitarist, truly wrenching noise out of his instrument, and, above all, Skin, an athletic, leather-clad women with a fluorescent cross on her shaven head, bounding and stage-diving as if she were very possibly possessed.

A security guard asks me if I know the name of the band; people keep coming up and asking her. It's almost unheard-of for an unheard-of support band to create such a buzz. But Skunk Anansie have been signed by record label One Little Indian, home of Bjork, who recruited their thunderous power for the B-side of her single "Army of Me". Next, they're off to Hollywood to cameo in Strange Days, starring Juliette Lewis and Ralph Fiennes.

The reasons for their appeal are as copious as they are obvious. They are a multi-racial band who crumple the boundaries between rock genres and they have a singer who is a cross between Naomi Campbell, Tank Girl and Aretha Franklin. Then there are the lyrics, which rail against corrupt evangelism ("Selling Jesus"), the police ("Skunk Song"), racism ("Little Baby Swastikkka"). "It's a documentation of what's going on, of what's around now," says Skin. "We're a very modern band, we're not interested in retro stuff. We're PC, and we're not pretending to be anti-PC. If that makes us uncool in some people's eyes then they can go and shag a fork- lift truck."

But the main reason for their success is that high-voltage stage act. Even when recording their album, due in the autumn, Ace's solos were at their best when Skin leapt on him and wrestled him to the floor as she does on stage.

"Scary" is an adjective frequently applied to their shows, but it's a sign of the mediocrity of concerts when it is thought frightening for a singer to jump about. "If people are scared by the way I look, they're pathetic," says Skin.

But the scariest thing about Skin and Ace is how well-adjusted, unpretentious and humorous they are. Skin, in fluorescent orange vest, has a squeaky little Brixton voice; she sounds much less confrontational than in print.

Skin's name sounds as militant as you can get. But she says it's short for Skinny, her childhood nickname. As for painting crosses, stripes and stars on her head, it's "just 'avin' a laugh an' bein' stupid".

Formed on the North London club scene 15 months ago, Skunk Anansie say success has not been as swift as it appears. "This is just our second single. If you're travelling around making money, that's when you think you've arrived," says Ace. "But we're not doing either."

They spend most of the interview laughing but when the photographer raises his camera they immediately assume grave faces. "We're political revolutionaries, man," says Cass. "Political revolutionaries don't smile." "Yeah," Ace agrees, "those T-shirts with Che Guevara on them wouldn't look right if he was smiling."

! Skunk Anansie: "I Can Dream" (One Little Indian) is out now.